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“Congress Complicit In Mass Murders”: Why Not Do The Right Thing”?: Renewed Gun Control Push Targets Firearm Dealers

Faced with little appetite in the US Congress to strengthen federal gun laws, a group of senators on Tuesday called on firearm dealers to help reduce the scourge of gun violence in America by performing more robust background checks, even when it’s not required by the law.

Their mantra: “No background check, no gun.”

Connecticut senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, along with 11 of their Democratic colleagues, sent a letter urging three large firearms dealers – Cabela’s, EZ Pawn and Bass Pro Shops – to stop allowing for “default sales” and refuse to sell guns without a completed background check. Current federal law includes a loophole that allows gun dealers to complete a sale without any background check, if the check takes longer than 72 hours.

Blumenthal and Murphy also made their case at a press conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, where they were joined by New York senator Chuck Schumer, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, and relatives who lost loved ones to gun violence. The senators cited the national retailer Walmart as an example of a company that took steps to toughen its requirements for gun transactions.

“For the gun dealers of America, why not do the right thing? Insist that there be a background check before you sell the gun,” Blumenthal said, while also encouraging a ban on illegal trafficking and straw purchases, steps to address mental health, and the enhancement of school safety.

Murphy said there was “absolutely no justification” for retailers not to follow Walmart’s lead, arguing that it caused “no inconvenience to the retailer” to perform safer background checks to ensure that criminals or mentally ill people do not walk out of their stores with a gun.

“The temporary inconvenience to a smidgen of gun purchases is certainly worth the lives that we know we could have saved or can save in the future if retailers make this change,” Murphy said.

For Blumenthal and Murphy, the push on firearm dealers is the latest in a two-year effort to confront gun violence – which personally impacted their constituents in the 2012 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Both senators acknowledged it had been a tough road ever since. The US Senate failed to pass universal background checks in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, which took the lives of 20 children and six educators.

“We were there to see the cries and faces that expressed that grief. We know that we will never be the same because of that experience,” Blumenthal said. “We should take heart that this struggle, this battle, is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Despite a series of high-profile mass shootings since Newtown, Congress hasn’t budged on any proposals to improve America’s gun laws.

Murphy said the lack of even a debate on the issue was “an abomination” while acknowledging that the National Rifle Association had for decades built “one of the most politically powerful forces in the country” and, at least for now, maintained the upper-hand.

Although Murphy said he and Blumenthal would continue to press upon “the consciousness of our colleagues”, Republicans who control both chambers of Congress have shown little indication they will revisit a debate over guns.

West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat who co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to expand background checks after Newtown, said the votes for his legislation simply weren’t there.

“That bill’s not going to come up unless Republicans vote for it,” he told reporters Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Manchin said he still believed that his proposal, which he co-authored with Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, was “pure, common gun sense”.

“It’s not gun control,” Manchin said. “I don’t think there’s a law-abiding gun owner that doesn’t believe that someone who has been mentally adjudicated or been criminally adjudicated shouldn’t be able to get a gun. I really believe that. And that’s all we’re trying to do.”

An overwhelming majority of Americans support the universal background checks bill, which fell victim to a Republican-led filibuster two years ago. Arizona senator John McCain, one of just four Republicans who voted for the Manchin-Toomey bill after the Newtown shooting, said he didn’t expect to see the background checks bill – or anything else pertaining to guns, for that matter – resurface.

“Frankly, with all the things that are going on right now, I don’t see anything real soon on this issue,” McCain told the Guardian in the Senate hallway.

McCain added, nonetheless, that he still supported the Manchin-Toomey proposal.

“There’s no reason not to,” he said.

Murphy implored lawmakers to do the same, or at the very least to start talking about ways to better protect Americans.

“There is a deafening silence coming from Congress,” he said. “Our silence is becoming complicity in these murders.”

 

By: Sabrina Siddiqui, The Guardian, July 29, 2015

July 31, 2015 Posted by | Background Checks, Congress, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Same Sick Story Over And Over”: We Simply Sit And Wait For The Next Massacre

Such troubled young men.

This is what we call them instead of nuts with guns, and they are a dreaded modern American cliché. Every time there’s a newsflash about another mass shooting, we now expect the culprit to be revealed as a “troubled young man.”

The murders at a Louisiana movie theater on Thursday were unusual because the gunman was in his 50s. The typical mass killer is much younger.

His family is always stunned by his crime. So are the few friends he has. And in the days following the massacre we always learn more about his loneliness and disillusion, and of course the ludicrous ease with which he was able to arm himself.

The story has become, after so many horrid tragedies, a fill-in-the-blank exercise.

In the hours after 24-year-old Mohammod Abdulazeez killed five U.S. servicemembers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the media frothed with speculation that he was working under the jihadist direction — or, at least, inspiration — of ISIS.

Now it appears he was a messed-up kid who drank too much booze, smoked too much weed, and spent too much money. Oh, he was also depressed.

FBI agents believe Abdulazeez began exploring Islamic radicalism as his money problems worsened, and his mental condition frayed. Shortly before his shooting spree, he searched the Internet for guidance as to whether martyrdom would absolve a person’s sins.

Evidently he found a website or a chat room that seeded this loony brainstorm, and sent him down the path of mass murder. Getting the firepower was, as always, no problem.

Ironically, the day Abdulazeez died after shooting four Marines and a Navy sailor, a jury in Denver was deliberating what to do about another troubled young man.

His name is James Eagan Holmes, age 27. In July 2012 he shot up a packed theater during a Batman movie, killing a dozen people and wounding 70 more.

His lawyers insisted Holmes was insane, which is certainly true. Jurors went ahead and convicted him of all 12 murders, of which he is certainly guilty.

Holmes has Phi Beta Kappa intelligence — a degree, with honors, in neuroscience — but was also deeply disturbed from a young age. Some described him as obsessed with the topic of murder, and speaking openly of wanting to kill people.

And kill he did, first loading up on heavy-duty firearms at Gander Mountain and Bass Pro Shops — two Glock pistols, a Remington “tactical” shotgun, and a Smith & Wesson assault-style semiautomatic rifle. The 6,000-plus rounds of ammunition Holmes purchased online.

See, he passed the background checks. So don’t look for any blood on the hands of the retailers that armed him.

The gun laws being what they are in this country, the transition from “troubled” to “homicidal” is a breeze. What feeble screening there is can’t be counted on to stop young men on bloodbath missions.

Dylann Roof, age 21, shouldn’t have been able to buy the .45-caliber handgun he used to murder nine black people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month.

A federal background check should have flagged him, because Roof had been arrested on felony drug charges and had admitted to possessing a controlled substance. The FBI has three business days to check if gun buyers have criminal records or drug issues, but the time expired while the agency was trying to gain access to the police report on Roof.

Because of a loophole in the law, the gun store was able to sell Roof the weapon because the three-day waiting period ended without an FBI response. “We’re all sick this happened,” FBI director James B. Comey said.

Sick is the word for it. Thousands of ineligible applicants for gun ownership have bought weapons over the counter, thanks to that loophole. Big surprise — some of those weapons were later used in violent crimes, according to the Justice Department.

So, Dylann Roof, eccentric loner and budding white supremacist, took his 21st birthday money and got himself a Glock, with which he executed nine innocent persons.

But not before posing for a photo — the gun in one hand, a Confederate flag in the other. The image tells much about this pathetic, unraveled soul.

Even if the gun shop had refused to sell Roof that pistol, he could have gotten another. Black-market weapons are available on the streets of Charleston, as they are in all American cities.

For a troubled man, young or old, finding kinship for your hate is only a mouse-click away. Finding guns is just as easy. It’s the same sick story over and over.

And all we do is wait for the next one.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 28, 2015

July 29, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Clear And Present Danger”: The Biggest Threat To Americans? Other Americans With Guns

What do you think a mother would say is the greater threat to her child: Russia or guns?

I couldn’t help but ask myself that question on Friday when I heard the testimony of General Joseph Dunford, President Obama’s nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. When Dunford was asked what was the greatest threat to the United States, he responded by ranking them in this order: Russia, China, North Korea, and ISIS.

Now, Dunford is undoubtedly correct when it comes to the global threats facing us, and those are the threats it’s his job to assess. But from a day-to-day perspective, our greatest threat, and I’d submit the more pressing one, is our fellow Americans. We kill far more of each other on a daily basis than any foreign actor has come close to doing in recent years.

Here are some numbers for you to consider:

1. Gun Violence: Every day 30-plus Americans are murdered with guns. We are talking over 10,000 Americans killed each year by gun violence. And every single day, including today, five children or teens are murdered by someone using guns; that is 11 times more often than children are killed by gun violence in other “high income” nations.

In fact, far more Americans were killed by gun violence in 2013 alone (33,636) than all the Americans killed on U.S. soil by terrorists in the last 14 years, and that’s including 9/11. (2,977 Americans were killed on 9/11 and only 48 have been killed since by terrorism on U.S. soil.)

2. Other Gun-Related Deaths: Apart from gun violence, another 20,000 Americans use guns to commit suicide each year. (Suicides involving firearms are fatal 85 percent of the time in contrast to about a 3 percent fatality rate when using pills.) When you combine the above numbers with the 560 people accidentally killed by guns on an annual basis, that comes out to more than 32,000 Americans who die each year by firearms. These numbers really brought it home for me: Between 2000 and 2010, 335,609 people died from guns in our country; that’s more than the entire population of St. Louis, Missouri. (318,000.)

3. Driving Under the Influence: Each day nearly 30 people are killed in auto accidents that involved an alcohol-impaired driver. In 2013 alone, 200 children 14 and younger were killed in crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers.

4. Domestic violence: Each day, three women are killed by their husband, boyfriend, or a person with whom they had been in a relationship. In fact, a study found that alarmingly, at least one-third of all women murdered in the United States in recent years were killed by their current or past male partners.

These killers of Americans are all distinct. There’s no one remedy that will reduce the deaths in all these cases. But there is one killer that truly jumps out as the greatest existential threat to Americans: Deaths involving guns.

Now I know that many on the right are preparing to regurgitate their tired talking point that this is a push to grab their guns. They are wrong. I fully support that the Second Amendment guarantees them the personal right to own firearms as recognized in the seminal 2008 Supreme Court case of District of Columbia v. Heller. (Amazing how many on the right applaud the Supreme Court when it renders decisions they like such as Heller but literally want to abolish the Supreme Court as we know it after the recent gay marriage ruling)

But how can we sit idly by as so many of our fellow Americans are killed by guns? It is as if we have collectively decided that these deaths are acceptable loses. Even after mass shootings nothing seems to change, generally due to political considerations.

And we see politics at play again over the heartbreaking shooting death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco last week by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a man who was not in the country legally. Many on the right, like Donald Trump, refuse to talk about the gun aspect of this crime and solely want focus on Sanchez’s immigration status because it plays to their political base. (I doubt Trump would ever mention that 70 percent of the guns recovered by the ATF in the Mexican drug war between 2007 and 2011 originated in the United States. Talk about exporting dangerous things to another country.)

So while we are confirming a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to protect us from global threats, isn’t it time to create a federal level “Department to prevent gun deaths” to protect us from this domestic threat?

The federal government’s current gun-related tasks would be unified and integrated into this new department in an effort to increase effectiveness, much the same way we saw the Department of Homeland Security bring together the responsibilities of 22 different agencies under its auspices.

For starters this new agency can ensure that the federal law barring federally licensed gun dealers from selling firearms to people convicted of crimes or with mental illnesses is fully functioning.  As we learned just last week, the Charleston shooter Dylann Roof should not have been able to legally purchase a gun as he did because of his criminal record. However, a background check flaw allowed that to happen.

This new agency can also be charged with investigating gun trafficking across state lines, formulating comprehensive programs to reduce suicides by guns, and cracking down on federally licensed gun dealers that consistently sell guns used in crimes. Astoundingly, 1 percent of gun dealers account for nearly 60 percent of the guns used in crimes.

We have numerous federal agencies dedicated to keeping us safe from global threats. Isn’t it time we had a federal agency dedicated to protecting us from the clear and present danger posed right here in our nation by guns?

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, July 13, 2015

July 14, 2015 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Gun Violence, Terrorists | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Looking Beyond The Store Countertop”: Maybe The Supreme Court Isn’t As Pro-Gun As We Thought

Bruce Abramski must have known he was going to get into trouble when he bought a Glock 19 for his uncle. A retired police officer, Abramski was familiar with gun regulation. Yet he accepted $400 from his uncle, went to a local gun store, andas required to purchase the Glockfilled out federal Form 4473. Question 11.a of that form required Abramski to confirm that he was “the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s)?” Question 11.a includes, in stark bold lettering “You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person. If you are not the actual buyer, the dealer cannot transfer the firearm(s) to you.” Nonetheless, Abramski signed the form, knowingly lying about his intentions in purchasing the gun for his uncle.

When he was finally caught, Abramski answered with the audacity increasingly typical among a certain class of gun owners: He insisted the law itself was illegal. His lying, he claimed, was perfectly lawful. Surprisingly, he almost convinced the Supreme Court to let him off. Instead, a narrow majority of the Court declined Abramski’s invitation to gut one of the nation’s most important laws designed to reduce easy access to guns by felons and the mentally ill. The ruling is a relief to law enforcementand a setback for the National Rifle Association.

Law enforcement will be happy because the majority’s decision affirmed the continued viability of the federal prohibitions on gun trafficking. Nearly half of all trafficking investigations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the main federal agency overseeing gun sales, involve what Abramski did. It’s called “straw purchasing,” and it occurs when one person buys a gun for another person. People who can’t pass a background check, say, because of a prior felony conviction, persuade someone else to go to a gun store for them. It could be a girlfriend, a young recruit into the gang, or just someone looking to make a quick buck. Studies show that criminals often use straw purchasers to obtain firearms.

Abramski wasn’t planning to give his gun to a criminal. It was for his uncle, who wasn’t prohibited himself from purchasing firearms. In the lower courts, Abramski emphasized this argument. Because the uncle could have bought the Glock 19, Abramski’s misrepresentation on Form 4473 was not, as the law required, “material to the lawfulness of the sale.” This argument had a certain logic to it, even if it wasn’t especially persuasive in the end. The lie was still material because the gun store, which needs to verify the background of the buyer, would not have been allowed to sell the gun to Abramski had he told the truth. At the Supreme Court, however, Abramski decided to go further: He said he could lie regardless of his uncle’s eligibility. As is so often the case in today’s gun debate, a reasonable argument is pushed aside in favor of a more extreme and dangerous one.

Abramski’s extreme claim was that straw purchasing was not illegal at all. The law, he argued, only required the gun store to check his own background because he was the purchaser. It didn’t matter what he did with the gun later or whether he was already intending to sell it to his uncle, his aunt, or some dude he met at a gun show. As Justice Scalia, who agreed with this argument, wrote in dissent on behalf of Justices Alito, Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts: “If I give my son $10 and tell him to pick up milk and eggs at the store, no English speaker would say that the store sells the milk and eggs to me.”

Writing for a majority that included Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, Justice Kagan declined to buy what Scalia and Abramski were selling. In holding that federal law intends to look beyond the store countertop (Abramski and the gun dealer) to see who the actual purchaser is (the uncle), Kagan was clearly worried about the AFT’s continued ability to prosecute gun trafficking. The “overarching reason” to reject Abramski’s circumscribed interpretation is that it “would undermineindeed, for all important purposes, would virtually repealthe gun law’s core provisions.”

Repealing gun control is exactly what the NRA, which filed a brief in support of Abramski, was hoping for. Although famous for saying we need to enforce existing gun laws, here at least the NRA was trying to make it harder to enforce federal law. Perhaps this is an example of what’s been called the NRA’s gun control “Catch-22”: make gun laws impossible to enforce, then point to the laws’ ineffectiveness as a reason to get rid of them. Had the NRA’s position won in the Court, tomorrow they’d be saying the background check law doesn’t work because it doesn’t stop straw purchasing.

Whatever the NRA’s motive, the nation’s leading gun rights organization will be disheartened by today’s ruling. It’s bad enough, from the NRA’s perspective, that the Court strengthened the hand of ATFlong the target of the NRA’s hostility. Worse, the Abramski case saw Justice Kennedy siding with the liberal wing of the Court to uphold a gun control law. Ever since the Supreme Court breathed new life into the Second Amendment in the 2008 case of District of Columbia v. Heller, another narrow, 5–4 decision, the NRA has been counting on Justice Kennedy to side with it in the NRA’s challenges to gun control.

Based on that expectation, the NRA has been pursuing lawsuits around the nation challenging a variety of gun control laws. The most significant of these are laws restricting who can carry guns in public. Just this term, the NRA and other gun rights advocates petitioned the Court to rule on that issue in several different cases. Although the Court has so far declined to hear any of those casesand today’s case was not framed as a Second Amendment casetoday’s ruling shows that Justice Kennedy is willing to support gun control. For people on either side of the gun debate, that may be the most important signal to come from the Court’s ruling.

 

By: Adam Winkler, Professor of Constitutional Law at The UCLA School of Law; The New Republic, June 6, 2014

June 18, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Transfers, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s All About Me”: Rand Paul Criticized By Fellow Republican For Threatening To Filibuster Gun Bill He Hasn’t Even Seen

Thirteen Republican senators have pledged to filibuster a senate debate about new gun safety measures, insisting in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that they will “oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American people’s constitutional right to bear arms, or their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance.” The threat, which Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) first made last week without seeing the bill, comes just days before the body prepares to consider the first comprehensive gun legislation in the aftermath of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The package will expand restrictions against gun trafficking, invest in school safety and provide for universal background checks of all gun purchases.

But one top Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), is speaking out publicly against the group, questioning the wisdom of promising to filibuster legislation that lawmakers have yet to finalize:

After Mr. Coburn was asked multiple times an identically worded question about whether he would join Mr. Paul’s effort to block gun legislation as he traveled around Oklahoma in recent days, Mr. Coburn bristled at the idea that Mr. Paul would threaten to filibuster a bill before its contents were made final.

Is that about filibustering a bill to protect the Second Amendment, or is that about Rand Paul?” Mr. Coburn said at a town-hall meeting at the Oklahoma Sports Museum in Guthrie, Okla., on Wednesday. “I’ve done more filibusters than Rand Paul is old,” Mr. Coburn said, but he added that he doesn’t announce such moves before he understands the bill.

Coburn is working on compromise legislation that would expand background checks to all gun purchases, but would not require private sellers to keep a record of the transaction, which gun safety advocates say would ensure that checks are being properly conducted and allow the entire chain of custody to be reconstructed in the event the gun is later recovered in a crime.

Should the Republicans proceed to filibuster on the motion to proceed to the gun package, Reid could take advantage of a new Senate rule “by promising each party two amendments on the legislation.” “Under that scenario, Paul and his allies would still get a chance to raise their objections on the floor for hours on end, but they couldn’t stop the Senate from starting debate on the bill,” Politico reports.

 

By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, April 6, 2013

April 8, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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